Frank Merriwell's Limit

CHAPTER III.
FRIENDS OR FOES?

"You?"

"Yes." Frank got up. "Don't rise" said Badger.

"Have a chair," invited Merry.

Badger sat down.

"Cold morning," he said.

"Yes, chilly," said Frank.

Both felt awkward for a moment, but Merry quickly recovered, although the Westerner did not. Frank sat down again, and there was a pause. Merry eyed his visitor steadily and searchingly, but the other stared at fire embers amid the gray ashes on the grate. Frank resolved to let him speak.

"I reckon," said Buck, "that it's in place to thank you for inviting me here with the others."

"Don't mention it."

"But I have to. I allow I would not have come, but Winnie-er-Miss Lee said I must."

"Then I have her to think for the pleasure of your society."

Badger made a gesture, a hot flush in his cheeks.

"Don't be sarcastic, Merriwell!" he exclaimed. "Confound sarcasm!"

"Didn't mean it that way."

"Hanged if it didn't sound that way."

"All right. But I know my company was not particularly pleasant."

"I think it was-to Miss Lee."

Frank bit his lip to repress a smile, and Badger scowled at an ember on the grate, which glowed out bright and died down, as if winking at him in a knowing manner.

"Look here," said Bink, suddenly, "you've made me feel mighty disagreeable!"

Frank whistled.

"That was the farthest thing from my thoughts," he declared, sincerely.

"Was it?"

"Of course. Did you think--"

"I didn't know, I don't understand you, but I've begun to see you have a way of getting square with your enemies that is all you own."

"How do you mean?"

"Well, I reckon you sort of put them in your debt, return good for evil, and all that sort of thing, so that they feel mighty cheap if they don't knuckle down and eat humble pie."

"Do you think so?"

"I do, and I want to asseverate right here that I don't like it none whatever. That's plain. I like it a heap sight better when a fellow comes back at his enemies with both feet and knocks 'em west-end-and crooked if he can. That allows he has a temper, an' I naturally take to a man with a temper."

Frank laughed in honest amusement.

"My dear fellow," he said, "it's plain you are a hard man to suit; but I want you to understand one thing at the start, and that is that I did not invite you here on your account to-night. If it had not been for Winnie Lee you'd received no invitation. Now that is straight and plain."

Somehow, this did not make Badger feel any better; on the contrary, it caused the scowl on his face to become even blacker, if possible.

"All right," he growled, "and you can be mighty sure I'd not come if it hadn't been for Winnie Lee. I don't want you to think I'm any whatever like those other chaps who hang round you on all the time and fawn over you. I'm not built for fawning."

"I fancy not. But don't get a foolish notion into your head, Mr. Badger- don't think for a moment that I am anxious for your friendship. I'm not. I have plenty of friends without you."

"Don't worry; you'll not have it in any great hurry."

"It is positively a pleasure to hear you say so. As an enemy you have proved very interesting; as a friend, I fancy you would be a great bore."

The Kansan felt like rising and smiting Merriwell fair on his smiling mouth. He had not expected anything like this. He had come to that room with the plain intention of freeing his mind and declaring

that it was impossible for him to be Frank's enemy in the future, even though be might not be a friend; but Merry had cut him short and turned him on quite a different tack, and he realized that he was not cutting a particularly handsome figure.

"That's right!" he snarled. "Talk right out! I like it better when you talk that way!"

"I'm glad you do. I've longed to tell you some things for quite a while, and now I have the opportunity. To begin with, you are by nature an obstinate, selfish, belligerent fellow. Your bump of combativeness is abnormally developed, and your good sense does not control it. You had rather fight than eat, and you're never happy unless there is some one you can hit. You are a natural born fighter, and that's the full size of it."

Badger gasped, "Anything more?" he asked.

"Lots. If you're going to make a success in this world, you'll have to get sense enough into our head so that you can control your ugliness. It's all right for a man to want to fight sometimes, but it's all wrong for him to want to fight all the thus. Besides that, when you form an opinion on any point, you never change your opinion."

"Never!"

"That allows you lack good sense. It's very well for a man to stick to his opinions as long as he has any ground to stick on; but the wisest men change their opinions when they discover beyond the shadow of a doubt that they are wrong.

"Yah!" snapped Badger.

"You formed all opinion about me sometime ago--"

"I've stuck to it!"

"You have."

"I shall!"

"All right. Just the same, down in your heart, you know you are wrong."

"I don't!"

"You do! Don't contradict; it'll do no good. You have resolved to hate me, and you mean to stick to it, That's all right. It does not worry me."

"Glad of it!"

"Now, Badger, there is another side to you, and I am free to say that I admire you for it. You are a square enemy. I never knew you to do but one dirty thing and you did that under the impulse of intense passion."

"What was that?"

"When I was down, in the Dartmouth game, you kicked me in the head, which came near sending me off the field on a stretcher. That, Badger, was a dirty thing!"

Badger actually hung his head. All at once, he looked up.

"I did kick you!" he said. "I couldn't help it! I felt like kicking your head off!"

"Haven't a doubt of it. But it was a piece of dirt, just the same."

"I hated you enough to do anything then."

"Don't doubt it, and still I never gave you any real reason to hate me. Your own selfishness made you hate me. You did it because you fancied I might fill some position that otherwise would fall to you. Don't deny it, Badger, for you know it's true. You think I've been soft toward you? Ha! Ha! Why, my dear fellow, I've read you like an open book. But under all your outward crust of ugliness I fancied I could catch a glimpse of a strong, honest heart. I may have been wrong, but I don't think so. I believe you stand at the parting of the roads; one road leads to crookedness, meanness, vileness, while the other leads to uprightness and honor. I think you call choose your course. I hope you will choose the right one, and, somehow, I believe you will."

Badger sat limp as a rag, staring at Merry with wide open eyes, utterly flabbergasted. After a time, he gasped:

"Well, I swear no onery critter ever talked to me this way before! If anybody'd told me a week ago that I'd stood for it from you, I'd thumped him instanter. But I can't do that with you-here-now."

"Don't let your nasty pugnaciousness get the best of you, Badger. I've talked straight to you, and now--"

"And now," cried Buck, springing to his feet, "by the eternal Rockies, I'm going to talk straight to you! Do you hear? You have had your say, Frank Merriwell, and now I'll have mine. I reckon you'd best sit right still and listen!"

"Go on," smiled Merry, blandly.

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